Bright green arrow-shaped sorrel leaves have been up and waving in the breeze for over a month now, along with rhubarb (its cousin), one of the earliest spring edibles. It’s an herb, but because it’s broad leafed like a small lettuce I think of it more as actual food. Like most herbs, it packs a lot of flavor punch in just a few tablespoons. Add that much to a green salad and see what I mean. Cultivated all over the world, and used for centuries, our word for sorrel comes from an ancient Germanic word meaning ‘sour’. And by the way, sorrel leaves contain oxalic acid which, in very large quantities can make you sick or worse. Small quantities no problem.
I’m told that avid seasonal/regional cooks in Italy and France use sorrel prolifically during the spring where we here wonder what to do with it. I’ll be there in two weeks (so excited!), I’ll let you know. A couple of years ago I began to explore its use since it was growing so well in its corner of the herb garden. Sorrel’s green, sour, some say lemony flavor – also referred to as sour grass – makes it perfect in spring’s Green Goddess Soup, a mixed greens risotto or a sauce for fish or chicken. Especially fish.
A spoonful of golden sorrel sauce gilds a piece of fresh halibut or salmon (Loki Fish), and it also tastes really good. Served with mixed spring greens risotto, it’s a local seasonal meal with a little class and not a hassle in the kitchen. Sauce is a few minutes, poach the halibut or salmon in ten. OK, the risotto’s another matter.
Two sorrel sauce recipes, Jerry Traunfeld’s The Herbfarm Cookbook, and Canal House Cookbook (winter/spring) inspired this version using less butter (Traunfeld), and a streamlined method à la Canal House. They’re both delicious. This yields about 2/3 of a cup, enough for four servings of fish.
Spoon Spring’s Buttery Sorrel Sauce over poached salmon or halibut.
Ingredients: 1/3 C chopped sorrel, 6 T butter, 1/4 C dry white wine, 2 t white wine vinegar, 2 T finely chopped shallot.
Sauté shallot in 1 T of the butter/Add wine and vinegar, cook until reduced to 2 teaspoons of liquid, or Traunfeld says down to almost no liquid/ On low heat, whisk in cold butter one tablespoon at a time, allowing to melt and emulsify before adding more/ When all butter is incorporated, remove from heat and stir in the finely chopped sorrel/ Traunfeld suggests adding a little tarragon and fresh chives if you like. This is best served immediately. Liquid reduction can be done in advance, but whip in the butter just before serving.
Full disclosure: First time I made this sauce I had beginner’s luck. It turned out perfectly creamy and emulsified. Next time, for its photo shoot, the sauce broke and that’s what you see here. There’s some skill to getting it right every time. But . . . if this happens to you forge ahead, the sauce is delicious anyway.
Chef Jerry Traunfeld, known for his expertise with fresh herbs, has this to say about cooking with sorrel: “Add sorrel to dishes where you might use a squeeze of lemon or a dash of vinegar and where its grassy flavor will be an asset rather than a distraction. Traditionally it’s used to make sorrel soup and to flavor egg dishes and sauce for delicate fish, particularly salmon. The large leaves are perfect for cutting into a fine chiffonade, to fold into a butter sauce for seafood, or to sprinkle over a fish dish as a garnish.” And as for growing sorrel, “it’s a long-lived and spreading perennial that prefers cool weather, plenty of moisture, and a partly shady spot.”
Speaking of seasonal food . . . C&P Coffee in West Seattle is featuring our whole food photographs for the month of April. Stop by any time, it’s a wonderful place to hang out, and/or come by on Art Walk night, Thursday the 8th, say hello. Take another look, a different look at foods we smash, chop, dice and saute’, perhaps without noticing their innate physical beauty.